Jackie Greene comes full-circle with his self-produced and engineered EP The Modern Lives Vol. 1. His early records were somewhat derivative efforts released on a small label, before the California native embarked on a variety of high-profile collaborations, including Trigger Hippy (with Joan Osborne and Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman) plus an extended run with Phil Lesh and Friends. The multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter also continued to issue a series of increasingly polished solo albums as well as touring on his own and in the company of Bob Weir and Chris Robinson at one point.
This six-track set is the first result of Greene’s relocation to the East Coast, specifically, Brooklyn, New York, where in a basement studio of his own devise, he put together a finished product that wholly belies its DIY concept. “Back of My Mind,” to name just one, earmarks the professionalism Jackie brought to the project, not just in terms of the musicianship—he sounds like a whole band playing all by himself—but also because the clarity and depth of the audio mix, highlighted here by piano, is as impressive the song itself.
It’s one of the better numbers of the half-dozen here because it sounds completely natural, in its words and music, as well as in the author’s relaxed yet knowing vocal tone. In contrast, for the title song and “Tupelo,” Greene strains for effect: it’s almost as if he’s trying to live up to press nominating him a standard bearer of Americana music. While it is no sin in itself to prominently feature banjo, but he might better have elevated dobro in the arrangement of the latter to render it more distinct from its companion cut and reaffirm its authenticity.
The lyrics of “Good Advice” sound a bit self-conscious as well. Jackie aims for a rustic atmosphere, but the treatment he applies to the vocal track only ends up overstating his point. But the man doesn’t make the same mistake on “The Captain’s Daughter,” because he’s telling a story and creating a character within that story through whom he expresses sentiments of his own. And the pithy electric guitar Greene plays on this cut is an indirect but legitimate link to the influence of the Band on his music.
“Alabama Queen” works for many of the same reasons and ends The Modern Lives Volume 1 on a high note. This finale radiates that ease in writing, singing and playing with which Jackie Greene has distinguished himself in all manner of settings prior to this release, so he certainly whets the appetite for the sequel to this set, not to mention creating some healthy anticipation for future recordings and live shows.